Pinpoints of light are flickering across the web in North America, Europe, New Zealand and Australia. Playground bloggers are setting up beacons to celebrate outdoor play, to mark the spots where fun can be found, laughter heard and friendships made.
Most local governments do not provide comprehensive, web-based listings of the playgrounds in their jurisdictions. There are notable exceptions such as New York City. PlayGroundology will look at the New York experience in a future post.
In some areas, blogging is filling the internet void of readily available information on playgrounds. Versatile platforms such as WordPress and Blogger enable the posting of narrative, still photos, audio, video and mapping. The technical threshold is such that with very little experience people can create a reasonable looking and functioning presence on the web at virtually no cost.
Playground bloggers are presently few and far between. There are not many communities that get to benefit from their passionate sleuthing, scribing and push it out sharing. Google searches suggest there are fewer than 20 people compiling information on playgrounds in their local communities. Maybe it’s time for local governments to consider honorary playground blogger laureates.
It doesn’t appear that the bloggers are poised to mount a Pinky and The Brain type takeover of the world’s playgrounds. However, the number of people involved is growing and may possibly move into trending territory. One thing is sure, wherever these intrepid trackers of family fun open shop they are developing an appreciative readership base.
Michele Whiteaker of Orange County, California had 3,000 visitors to her blog so far in January, not exactly the peak of the playground season even by California standards.
“My goal is to promote play by playing, encouraging others to play and sharing our experiences.” – Michele Whiteaker
Michele’s Fun Orange County Parks has been spreading the news about the joys of outdoor play in Orange County, California for two years. That puts this Mom of two in vanguard territory as one of the first out of the blocks with a blog that focuses predominantly on playground reviews.
With over 100 playgrounds under her belt, this playground aficionado has a varied menu to offer her readers. “I get great feedback,” says Michele. “Everyone who knows about it loves it. They say it’s all there in one place.” More and more people know about Fun Orange County Parks. As SoCal has a population of over 20 million and there’s a real cultural tilt to outdoor activity, there’s plenty of room for her numbers to grow.
It was everyday events that led her to playground blogging. “I was doing the newsletter for a Mom’s Club when my son was 10 months old. Every week we went to a different park and I had to write detailed directions. I thought it would be great if we had a database, or could start a website. But there were rules and concerns about privacy issues among the group. In Colorado I wrote a small, montlhy newspaper column about parks in the town we were living. It was limiting because they didn’t have the ability to publish more than one picture. Once the blogs came around it just made sense. I made my first post in April 2008.”
Michele writes and looks after the technical and design elements of the blog in the early mornings before anyone is awake and again after the kids are off to bed. She does a bit of tweeting and other social media during her daughter’s quiet time. Then there are the outings to the playgrounds themselves which are adventures for her and the children. It’s a significant time commitment and she jokes, “It’s almost like a full time job. I’m not a stay at home mom, I’m a work at home mom and I don’t get paid.” A recent redesign which she customized and implemented resulted in a major spike in time dedicated to the blog. Now Michele is back to a steady 20 to 25 hours per week.
Michele loves what she’s doing. She gets great satisfaction hearing from other parents and knowing that the blog helps people discover a larger play canvas and encourages them to explore beyond their immediate neighbourhoods.
And of course there’s her kids, her inspiration for starting this off in the first place. “They think Mom has the coolest job in the whole world. They really like it. I try and take the pictures first when I get to a park. Just wait a sec, let me get the pictures and then we’ll play. They love it, they’re great.”
Over on the Atlantic coast, Sheila Sayah is cutting her own groove on New Jersey’s playground circuit. Working from her home in Springfield, Sheila started out with a photo stream on Picasa. It wasn’t long before she acquired a domain name and the blog project – NJ Playgrounds – took on an accelerated life.
Sheila and her three kids are inveterate playground seekers. She noticed there was a gap in the information available online. Most of the new playgrounds she discovered were through word of mouth. She started what she calls her ‘labour of love’ in the summer of 2008 thinking it would also be an opportunity to meet other parents.
It’s helped to get me out of my shell too. I’ve been meeting some wonderful people and it’s great to be able to provide something for fellow mothers, fathers and caretakers. – Sheila Sayah
Ralston Playground - Mendham, NJ
Visits to the site are hovering around 100 per day in the down season. This more than doubles in the summer when traffic increases to about 7,000 visits per month.
Like Michele on the Pacific coast. Sheila is supplementing the blog, adding channels, with a Facebook fan page and tweeting on twitter. She’s passionate about her playground blogging and bringing people together around a common cause and interest, a following of sorts. It’s just possible that both Sheila and Michele are in what Seth Godin calls tribe and movement territory.
Sheila has had some fortuitous experiences related to her playground blogging. A local author with a series of playground guides has contacted her and they are now exploring how they can collaborate on projects.
She’s got some projects of her own in mind too. Sheila is now looking at connecting with New Jersey celebrities to explore what their favourite playgrounds are and what playground memories they have from their childhood years. She is just starting out on this and is hoping to make contact with the likes of Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen. Stay tuned for ‘playgrounds of the stars’.
Boutique blogs, like these two, with local knowledge, a personal touch and a passion for their subject matter make all the difference. A toast to urban trekkers tracking fun in green spaces doing their best to ensure that parents and children get outside to do what kids do best – play.
PlayGroundology will feature playground bloggers from Canada, Australasia and Europe in the coming months.
Photo credits in order of appearance
- A. Smith
- Fun Orange County Parks
- Fun Orange County Parks
- NJ Playgrounds
- NJ Playgrounds
All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.
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